Why it’s not what you say. And it’s not just how you say it.


I’m late getting this post out because I spent my writing time having a firm conversation with my soon-to-be 12 year-old son. It was a conversation that almost all parents have at some point. I’ll call it the “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” talk. Often how we say things makes a greater impression than the words and points themselves. By the time we reach adulthood, we tend to be well aware of this fact. We may actively try to monitor things like tone, body language and facial expressions in hopes that our communications will be received more favorably. This is critically important because it’s almost impossible to serve others if we aren’t able to connect and communicate well.

I was passionate about explaining this to my son. I pointed out the visual cues that revealed his mixed emotions. And I explained how those visual cues created more hostility in me than his words alone warranted. But I’ve been thinking about it more since then and in hindsight I think I missed an opportunity to teach him something additional. Correcting his tone or body language is important when showing respect, but it can also lead to suppressing the truth. Covering things up will make his conversations more palatable, but true emotions have a way of being felt and known even if not fully observed or expressed.

When I revisit this talk with him again, I’m going to do a better job of pointing out that he should also try to identify and deal with how he feels. Because directly dealing with his feelings will actually help him manage them better. It will also allow for a more open and honest exchange. I’m going to encourage him to examine his emotions and intentions even if it’s still appropriate to display them more calmly. I need him to know that tone and deliver definitely matter. But if the relationship matters – the truth about how he’s feeling matters too. So I want him to have some tools to identify his feelings because sometimes he won’t even be sure what they are.

Feelings that speak loudly

So these are the 10 questions I’m going to encourage him to ask himself. The truth behind any of these answers is often hard to hide. I’m sure he won’t remember them all but I hope he’ll try one or two. They should help him come to a conversation knowing what he’s feeling and if he’s being genuine or not.

  1. Am I angry with this person?
  2. Has this person hurt my feelings?
  3. Do I like this person?
  4. Do I trust this person?
  5. Have I tried to see their point of view?
  6. Do they remind me of anyone that may have hurt me in the past?
  7. Does this situation remind me of anything that’s happened before?
  8. Am I open to changing my mind?
  9. Am I willing to hurt this relationship to make my point?
  10. What is the outcome I’m hoping for?

What is missing from this list?

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